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’Temporary truce possible if LTTE allows civilians to leave’

world Updated: Mar 29, 2009 14:54 IST

Amid calls from the United Nations for a truce in the island’s embattled north, Sri Lanka has said it may agree to halt temporarily the offensive against the LTTE if the rebels allow the Tamil civilians “held forcibly” by them to move to the government-controlled region.“If the LTTE is ready to let these people (Tamil civilians) go, at least part of them go,” the government may agree to a modality to facilitate a temporary truce, Sri Lanka’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations, H M G S Palihakkara, said.

“You can call it a pause or as I said government had earlier given a 48-hour period,” he told reporters at the UN headquarters in New York, referring to the January 30 move of President Mahinda Rajapaksa when he announced a two-day ceasefire in order to give a safe passage to the civilians in Wanni.

“The issue is LTTE is not willing to let them (civilians) go. They are trying to hold this human shield,” Palihakkara said.UN humanitarian chief John Holmes has estimated that over one lakh civilians were still trapped in the Wanni area and urged both Sri Lankan security forces and the LTTE to call a brief ceasefire to enable the people to leave.our first appeal is to the LTTE to let the civilians out in a safe and orderly fashion. And I very much hope they will do that. We are also concerned that the government of Sri Lanka should do everything they can to avoid civilian casualties,“ Holmes had earlier said.

Palihakkara asserted the Sri Lankan army was not using heavy weapons in the safe zone, which now constitutes majority of the remaining area held by the LTTE.“There is no military sense in firing at such short range heavy weapons because one remains in kind of a house-to-house combat situation.

“As you know LTTE is firing from the No Fire Zone. There may have been occasions. I don’t know, I am speculating. There may have been occasions, where this automatic return fire may have (taken place by the Sri Lankan forces). But forces are not firing deliberately,” he said.